This fall, a new $7 million learning community opened its doors for SigEp at Fort Hays State. The university put forward the funds to build the facility, and a $250,000 capital campaign previously initiated by Fraternity alumni was redirected to support chapter scholarships. While the space is owned and maintained by the university, it is tailored to suit the needs of a SigEp Residential Learning Community.
This innovative project embodies university partnership, as well as partnership among Greek organizations. The new learning community contains four separate units, each with their own common areas and 24 beds. In addition to SigEp, a sophomore experience program and two sororities — Tri Sigma and Delta Zeta — are operating out of the facility.
It was important to Fort Hays State’s administration that each unit remain substance-free, and fraternities and sororities unprepared to adopt the policy were turned away. However, there is a footprint designated for another Greek building when other groups are ready to partner with the school.
Because the emphasis of the space is residential learning, common areas were made larger, resulting in construction costs that were higher than a typical residence hall. To ensure the new facility would maintain a positive cash flow, alumni and volunteer groups provided a financial guarantee that their units would maintain 100 percent occupancy.
Dozens of SigEp alumni have donated to support the sustained operation of the house as well as chapter scholarships. One donor, Steve Shields, Fort Hays State ’77, also donated the furniture for the chapter’s common spaces.
The Fort Hays State brothers hope to host a semester-long course in the new facility and will sponsor a speaker series open to the campus community. To support these and other chapter programs, they’ve recruited their first resident scholar and two faculty fellows.
This unique housing partnership benefited from a number of university officials familiar with SigEp and the positive impact of its programs. For 27 years, SigEp Past Grand President and member of the Order of the Golden Heart Ed Hammond, Emporia State ’66, led Fort Hays State as president. In addition to Hammond, advocates within the administration included his immediate successor, Mirta Martin, who received SigEp’s 2016 University Partner of the Year Award for her work with the learning community. Jill Arsensdorf, chair of the school’s leadership studies department, was also influential in the project’s design. She serves as mentor with the chapter and was named a SigEp Volunteer of the Year in 2016.
Other SigEp volunteers within the administration included Vice President of Student Affairs Joey Linn, Fort Hays Renaissance, Foundation President and CEO Jason Williby, Fort Hays State ’07, Honors College Director Matt Means, Northern Colorado ’97, retired Mathematics and Computer Science Department Chair Ron Sandstrom, Fort Hays State ’64, former Assistant Director of the Memorial Union Vince Bowhay, Washburn ’08, and Registrar Craig Karlin, Fort Hays State ’88. In total, over 3,000 volunteer hours went into the planning, design and execution of Fort Hays State’s new learning community.